Any business will have employees who don’t get along from time to time. Whether it’s because of differences in their personalities, lifestyles, opinions or some other factor, sometimes employees just don’t mesh.
And when there’s discord in the workplace, it affects everybody.
The resulting tension not only makes the office environment uncomfortable – it can also negatively impact your business’s productivity.
At the same time, the old saying that iron sharpens iron represents the upside of the situation. Handled constructively, employee conflict can lead to healthy competition, process improvements, innovation and enhanced creativity.
Here are some tips to help you tactfully turn conflict into consensus between feuding employees.
Step 1. Understand the nature of the conflict
It’s often tempting to make assumptions about conflict, especially if rumors are circulating. But don’t assume anything. Instead, figure out what’s fueling the disagreement between your employees.
First and foremost, make sure you’re not dealing with an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issue, such as workplace harassment or discrimination. Become familiar with your company’s harassment prevention polices and guidelines, if you aren’t already. And if you don’t have these types of policies currently in place, make that a priority.
Remember, with harassment, it’s not the intent of the behavior but how the behavior is perceived.
Once you’ve ruled out any EEOC issues, what are some other underlying circumstances that may be causing or worsening the conflict? Are there clashing work styles at play? Is it a high-stress environment? Is a new project creating tight deadlines? What about a difficult client? Are some employees spreading gossip or bullying coworkers?
There may be a variety of factors causing hostility among your employees. Getting an initial read on what’s at the heart of the matter is essential to successfully resolving the issue and avoiding future conflict.
Step 2. Encourage employees to work it out themselves
As a business leader, you want your employees to be as self-sufficient as possible. After all, you’re their supervisor or manager – not their mother.
Keep in mind that reacting to every worker complaint may actually heighten the drama and make the situation worse. Doing so could even cause some employees to think you’re playing favorites.
That doesn’t mean that encouraging your team to manage issues on their own won’t require a little facilitating on your part, especially if you have employees who tend to avoid confrontation.
Provide guidance or talking points, if needed, to help each employee approach the other person in a positive manner. Don’t set the expectation that you’ll fix the problem for them. You can facilitate the discussion, but that’s where you should draw the line.
Always use your best judgment when it comes to addressing employee complaints. Consider taking a structured approach like this one:
- Determine whether the situation is emotionally charged and define the severity of the conflict.
- Once you’ve assessed the issue, if appropriate, talk to each employee individually to let them know you’re aware of the situation.
- Then, encourage open communication and resolution among the employees involved. Ask them if they feel comfortable going to the other employee and handling it one-on-one.
When people work together, disagreements will occasionally happen. That’s a given. But disrespect is another story.
Employees who don’t get along should still treat each other with respect and make an effort to listen to the other person’s side. Using words such as “I feel” (instead of “you did”) can also help prevent the conversation from becoming defensive.
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